Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret? ‘Trudge Your Ass In’

“One day I was watching these construction workers go back to work. I was watching them kind of trudging down the street. It was like a revelation to me. I realized these guys don’t want to go back to work after lunch. But they’re going. That’s their job. If they can exhibit that level of dedication for that job I should be able to do the same. Trudge your ass in.”

— Jerry Seinfeld, in “Comedian

Jerry Seinfeld, in an image from his TV show.

Before Jerry Seinfeld was a TV star, he was a famous stand-up comedian selling out nightclubs. Before he was selling out clubs, he was a beginner, just like anybody else.

So how did Jerry Seinfeld the beginner become Jerry Seinfeld the genius? By trudging his ass in every day. And how did he do that?

He used a simple, but beautiful system. You can, too. All you need is a calendar and a fat red magic marker. You can use it, too, whether you want to improve your comedy, read more, learn to code, or start a business.

Here’s how Seinfeld did it.

Don’t Break The Chain

Years ago, Seinfeld promised himself that he would write jokes every day. Not all of them would be gems, but by doing it every day he got his brain into the mindset of being creative. He turned writing into a habit, instead of a chore.

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Saying you’ll do something every day and actually doing it are two very different things, which is why he created a system for making sure he got his writing in every day. He got himself a big wall calendar with the entire year showing on one single page and hung it on the wall where he could see it every day. Next, he got a fat red magic marker and every day he wrote he drew a big red X on that day.

Jerry Seinfeld, performing stand-up comedy.

As the days went on, the calendar became filled with big red X’s, forming a chain with each X being a new link. The idea is to never break the chain, as it would be so visually evident and stand out for the rest of the year.

Once a few weeks were done like this without missing a day, he would try even harder to not break the chain.

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How It Works

Not only does this method work great for reminding you to get your own work done — whether it be cleaning your house, doing the dishes, or exercising — but it forces you to find those little bits of time you’d otherwise overlook.

For example, if your chain is reading every day, you’ll find the extra 20 or 30 minutes, time you would ordinarily spend playing on your phone or watching TV. Without the chain, that time will pass you by without your even noticing it.

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The chain works because you don’t want to explain the missing link to friends or family members. Once you get on a roll, Newton’s first law of motion kicks in: An object in motion will stay in motion unless an external force acts upon it.

The longer you are in motion, the greater the force it will take to derail you.

Make the System Your Own

Seinfeld used the chain system just for writing, but you can adjust it to work for multiple daily tasks, too. For example, you could schedule out an hour of every day to work on three separate tasks. Use 20 minutes each day to clean part of your home, 20 minutes to read, and 20 minutes to learn to code.

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Now you have to do each of the three tasks to earn your big red X.

If you’re busy you could schedule out 30 minutes daily and do 15 minutes of reading and 15 minutes to exercise.

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If that’s too much time, you can start with just a single minute. (For more information, see our short guide, The 1-Minute Habit.)

Whatever your method, figure it out now and start your own chain. Don’t wait till Monday, New Year’s Day, or any other landmark. Start now and you’ll see those red X’s start add up.

And don’t worry about starting small — it’s the best way to make big change.

Wrap-Up

The trick to Seinfeld’s system is self-motivation. It’s easy to skip a day of working out or reading if you don’t record that day anywhere. It’s even easy to skip a day if you’re using a monthly or weekly calendar because once that month or week is gone, so is that visual reminder.

Somebody just gave me a shower radio. Thanks a lot. Do you really want music in the shower? I guess there’s no better place to dance than a slick surface next to a glass door.

The fact that you can see that one day out of an entire year that you skipped your daily task for the rest of the year is a pretty big motivator. You can add in social support to this idea as well and take a picture of the calendar monthly and post it online for your friends and family to see. If you missed a day you’re sure to hear about it from them.

Trudge your ass in.

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